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About this poet

David Lehman was born in New York City in 1948. He graduated from Columbia University and attended Cambridge University in England as a Kellett Fellow. He received a PhD in English from Columbia University.

He is the author of several collections of poems, including New and Selected Poems (Scribner, 2013); Yeshiva Boys (Scribner, 2009), When a Woman Loves a Man (Scribner, 2005); Jim and Dave Defeat the Masked Man, coauthored with James Cummin (Soft Skull Press, 2005); The Evening Sun: A Journal in Poetry (Scribner, 2002); The Daily Mirror: A Journal in Poetry (Scribner, 2000); Valentine Place (Scribner, 1996); Operation Memory (Princeton University Press, 1990); and An Alternative to Speech (Princeton University Press, 1986).

His books of criticism include A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs (Schocken, 2009); The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets (Doubleday, 1998), which was named a "Book to Remember 1999" by the New York Public Library; The Big Question (University of Michigan Press, 1995); The Line Forms Here (University of Michigan Press, 1992); and Signs of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man (Poseidon Press, 1991). His study of detective novels, The Perfect Murder (University of Michigan Press, 1989), was nominated for an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America.

Lehman is also known as a prominent editor and literary critic. He is currently the series editor of The Best American Poetry, which he initiated in 1988, and is general editor of the University of Michigan Press's Poets on Poetry Series. His other editorial works include The Best American Erotic Poems (Scribner, 2008) and The Oxford Book of American Poetry (Oxford University Press, 2006).

According to the poet John Hollander, "This increasingly impressive poet keeps reminding us that putting aside childish things can be done only wisely and well by keeping in touch with them, and that American life is best understood and celebrated by those who are, with Whitman, both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it."

Lehman's honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, an award in literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writer's Award.

He is on the core faculty of the graduate writing programs at the New School and New York University. He lives in New York City and Ithaca, New York.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

New and Selected Works (Scribner, 2013)
Yeshiva Boys (Scribner, 2009)
When a Woman Loves a Man (Scribner, 2005)
Jim and Dave Defeat the Masked Man, coauthored with James Cummin (Soft Skull Press, 2005)
The Evening Sun: A Journal in Poetry (Scribner, 2002)
The Daily Mirror: A Journal in Poetry (Scribner, 2000)
Valentine Place (Scribner, 1996)
Operation Memory (Princeton University Press, 1990)
An Alternative to Speech (Princeton University Press, 1986)

Prose

A Fine Romance: Jewish Songwriters, American Songs (Schocken, 2009)
The Last Avant-Garde: The Making of the New York School of Poets (Doubleday, 1998)
The Big Question (University of Michigan Press, 1995)
The Line Forms Here (University of Michigan Press, 1992)
Signs of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man (Poseidon Press, 1991)


Multimedia

From the Image Archive

 

A Little History

David Lehman, 1948
Some people find out they are Jews.
They can't believe it.
They had always hated Jews.
As children they had roamed in gangs on winter nights in the old
    neighborhood, looking for Jews.
They were not Jewish, they were Irish.
They brandished broken bottles, tough guys with blood on their
    lips, looking for Jews.
They intercepted Jewish boys walking alone and beat them up.
Sometimes they were content to chase a Jew and he could elude
    them by running away. They were happy just to see him run
    away. The coward! All Jews were yellow.
They spelled Jew with a small j jew.
And now they find out they are Jews themselves.
It happened at the time of the Spanish Inquisition.
To escape persecution, they pretended to convert to Christianity.
They came to this country and settled in the Southwest.
At some point oral tradition failed the family, and their
    secret faith died.
No one would ever have known if not for the bones that turned up
    on the dig.
A disaster. How could it have happened to them?
They are in a state of panic--at first.
Then they realize that it is the answer to their prayers.
They hasten to the synagogue or build new ones.
They are Jews at last!
They are free to marry other Jews, and divorce them, and intermarry
    with Gentiles, God forbid.
They are model citizens, clever and thrifty.
They debate the issues.
They fire off earnest letters to the editor.
They vote.
They are resented for being clever and thrifty.
They buy houses in the suburbs and agree not to talk so loud.
They look like everyone else, drive the same cars as everyone else,
    yet in their hearts they know they're different.
In every minyan there are always two or three, hated by 
    the others, who give life to one ugly stereotype or another:
The grasping Jew with the hooked nose or the Ivy League Bolshevik
    who thinks he is the agent of world history.
But most of them are neither ostentatiously pious nor
    excessively avaricious.
How I envy them! They believe.
How I envy them their annual family reunion on Passover,
    anniversary of the Exodus, when all the uncles and aunts and
    cousins get together.
They wonder about the heritage of Judaism they are passing along
    to their children.
Have they done as much as they could to keep the old embers
    burning?
Others lead more dramatic lives.
A few go to Israel.
One of them calls Israel "the ultimate concentration camp."
He tells Jewish jokes.
On the plane he gets tipsy, tries to seduce the stewardess.
People in the Midwest keep telling him reminds them of Woody
    Allen.
He wonders what that means. I'm funny? A sort of nervous
    intellectual type from New York? A Jew?
Around this time somebody accuses him of not being Jewish enough.
It is said by resentful colleagues that his parents changed their
    name from something that sounded more Jewish.
Everything he publishes is scrutinized with reference to "the
    Jewish question."
It is no longer clear what is meant by that phrase.
He has already forgotten all the Yiddish he used to know, and
    the people of that era are dying out one after another.
The number of witnesses keeps diminishing.
Soon there will be no one left to remind the others and their
    children.
That is why he came to this dry place where the bones have come
    to life.
To live in a state of perpetual war puts a tremendous burden on the
    population. As a visitor he felt he had to share that burden.
With his gift for codes and ciphers, he joined the counter-
    terrorism unit of army intelligence.
Contrary to what the spook novels say, he found it possible to
    avoid betraying either his country or his lover.
This was the life: strange bedrooms, the perfume of other men's
    wives.
As a spy he has a unique mission: to get his name on the front 
    page of the nation's newspaper of record. Only by doing that 
    would he get the message through to his immediate superior.
If he goes to jail, he will do so proudly; if they're going to
    hang him anyway, he'll do something worth hanging for.
In time he may get used to being the center of attention, but
    this was incredible:
To talk his way into being the chief suspect in the most 
    flamboyant murder case in years!
And he was innocent!
He could prove it!
And what a book he would write when they free him from this prison:
A novel, obliquely autobiographical, set in Vienna in the twilight
    of the Hapsburg Empire, in the year that his mother was born.

From Valentine Place, published by Scribner. Copyright © 1996 by David Lehman. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the author.

From Valentine Place, published by Scribner. Copyright © 1996 by David Lehman. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of the author.

David Lehman

David Lehman

David Lehman is the author of several collections of poems and books of criticism and is also known as a prominent editor, teacher, and literary critic.

by this poet

poem
I like walking on streets as black and wet as this one
now, at two in the solemnly musical morning, when everyone else
in this town emptied of Lestrygonians and Lotus-eaters
is asleep or trying or worrying why
they aren't asleep, while unknown to them Ulysses walks
into the shabby apartment I live in, humming
poem
The happiest moment in a woman's life
Is when she hears the turn of her lover's key
In the lock, and pretends to be asleep
When he enters the room, trying to be
Quiet but clumsy, bumping into things,
And she can smell the liquor on his breath
But forgives him because she has him back
And doesn't have to sleep
poem

Today in 1862
Claude Debussy was born.
I remember where I was and what I was doing
one hundred years and two months later:
elementary algebra, trombone practice,
Julius Caesar on the record player
with Brando as Antony, simple
buttonhook patterns in football,
the